Bishan Park, 2012; All photos: Atelier Dreiseitl
In his seminal essay "Singapore Songlines", a serious study of the country's hyper-urbanization colored by the architect-writer's patented mix of poetic insight and ridiculous hyperbole, Rem Koolhaas writes that Singaporeans, like the Dutch, "fabricated their country," attributing the city-state's unprecedented and near-perpetual transformation to the physical, monumental "work [done] on the body of the island itself." A microcosm of this work can be seen in the just-completed $60 million rehaul of Bishan Park, one of Singapore's most popular parks, which has been re-designed as a diverse natural ecosystem. To revert the park back to the island's virginal state, planners had the herculean task of restoring nearly 3 kilometers of the Kallang River, previously interrupted and channeled down concrete drainage, and integrating the recovered waterway back into the landscape.
Completed in just over three years, the project was part of the state's Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) initiative established to promote the design and construction of a network of canals, drains and reservoirs for the collection and storage of much-needed water and to integrate them into the cityscape in a holistic manner, with the expressed purpose of providing the populace with "postcard-pretty" community spaces.
The 62-hectare park was re-opened over the weekend by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, offering the public with a vast array of features and attractions, such as a fitness center, a skateline, a trio of themed playgrounds ("water", "bubble", and "adventure"), several ponds and gardens, multiple event lawns, a cherry blossom grove, and even a McDonald's. As Treehugger reports, architects Atelier Dreiseitl, with the engineers at CH2M Hill, worked to reintroduce wildlife into the city core, while rerouting paths and opening up vistas to reconnect neighborhoods formerly estranged by the old canal, whose concrete was reused to form a lookout point now called "Recycle Hill."
Some 66 types of wildflowers, 59 species of birds, and 22 dragonfly variants now populate the park, contributing to a 30-percent spike in the park's biodiversity, while bioengineering techniques employed by the builders help retain soil along the river banks, enabling the reconstituted water channel to hold 40% more volume than the old canal was capable of handling. Interestingly, the project's daring echoes that of Koolhaas's own masterplan for Harvard (the "Moses scheme") from 2001, more of a provocative study than serious proposal which would have diverted Boston's Charles River to free up acres of land to have been seized by the university. Conducted just half a decade after his Singapore research, it's evident that the "Promethean enterprise" and "tabular rasa" planning undertaken by the island would have had great influence on Koolhaas's theory and built work from that point onward.
Concrete canal at Bishan Park, prior to construction